The outlandish charms of Sam Heughan

The one-time Batman and could-be Bond talks creating a whisky, working with Sir Roger Moore and the latest season of smash-hit series Outlander…

When Sam Heughan smiles, you smile. It’s a given; a guarantee — a beaming, pearly-white law of good-natured nature. It’s one of those rare smiles, brightly flashed and seemingly blessed with mystical, magical powers. And nothing in this world makes the Scot smile more freely and infectiously than a good motorbike. Thankfully, we’ve brought along a Bonneville Bobber today for the actor to play with; one of Triumph Motorcycles’ most stylish, vintage-tinged two-wheelers. 

“I’ve actually got one of these,” grins the actor from behind the handlebars. “Not a Bobber, but a Triumph. I bought a special edition Street Twin, in black and gold. And it’s just so nice. Traditional, classic and British — but in such a modern, updated style. When I’m not in Los Angeles, I live in Glasgow, and you can just get on your motorbike there and be out of the city in 30 minutes. I did that a lot last summer, actually. And Glasgow’s brilliant. It’s got such great buzz, great restaurants. I love it.”

It’s free-wheeling, smile-fuelled small talk. And, as Heughan strikes more poses from the saddle, and we all get pulled further into the orbit of that gleeful grin, he drops some film-related facts about Scotland’s second city. The latest Indiana Jones film has just finished filming on Renfield Street, he says. I counter with The Batman, Robert Pattinson’s new spin on the caped crusader, which also filmed in some of Glasgow’s gothic haunts. This information raises one of Heughan’s handsome eyebrows. Because, before the Scottish actor became Jamie Fraser, the strapping, ponytailed protagonist of his Starz series, Outlander, he was Batman.

Jacket & Trousers by Boss; Shirt by Prévu Studio; Vest by Intimissi; Necklace by Serge Denimes.

It’s true — as even the briefest swoop through Heughan’s CV shows. From 2011 to 2012, the rising star stepped into the bat-boots night-after-night for a live arena tour that opened in London’s O2, and went on to vanquish cities from Las Vegas to New Orleans. He even brought the grime of Gotham City to the hallowed Staples Centre in Los Angeles. And, given this new bout of bat-mania currently sweeping the world, it seems rude not to ask Heughan about his time in the cowl.

“Oh, it was a long time ago now,” says the Scottish actor, cracked smile breaking into a laugh. “But I remember, back in Buenos Aires, hanging upside down and waiting to fly in for the second half of the show. And there was sweat just pouring down my nose and out of the cowl, and dripping hundreds of metres down on to the stage. You could see the crowd below — almost 15,000 people in the bigger venues. It was such a great job. So amazing — and very cool to wear the suit”.

The live show’s story, Heughan adds, delivered less of the current blockbuster’s grunge and grit, and skewed more towards a comic-book “Cirque du Soleil”. But it was Heughan’s first crack at playing the unassailable, heroic leading man — and he loved every second of it.

“It was the story of Bruce Wayne taking Robin under his — well — wing,” says Heughan, with an eye-roll and a laugh. “It was so much fun, getting into the suit and fighting bad guys every night. Very different to how I imagine Pattinson’s Batman will be!”

Heughan’s professional derring-do even rubbed off in real life. Back when he was playing the dark knight, the actor foiled a theft at a London record store, performing a citizen’s arrest of the shoplifter. Heroics became Heughan, and even the perilous high-wire trickery of the stage show didn’t faze the then-31-year-old. A decade down the line, however, and things have changed slightly.

“Funnily enough, we’ve just finished filming the latest series of Men in Kilts — and we were up pretty high doing some stuff. I don’t know if I’m just getting older, but I definitely felt a little more—”. He tails off, teeth gritted.

Men in Kilts, for those of you who aren’t self-confessed, self-described ‘Heughligans’, is the actor’s second-most popular series — after Outlander. A travel docuseries, the first run of episodes saw Heughan and his good friend, fellow actor Graham McTavish, travel around Scotland, drinking in culture and whisky in equal intoxicating measure. The second series is a similarly spirited whirl, but this time around New Zealand — where McTavish, who co-starred in the first two seasons of Outlander, now lives.

“There were a lot of reasons we did the second series in New Zealand,” says Heughan. “There were so many Scottish settlers who went there in the mid-1800s. Dunedin is a city out there, and the name is Gaelic — it’s the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, and they just recreated Edinburgh there, with all the same street names. So these settlers took our customs over there, and intermarried with the Māori. So you have all these descendants there who are part-Māori, part-Scottish”.

"It was so much fun, getting into the suit and fighting bad guys every night..."

As the show’s name suggests, Men in Kilts is stuffed to its sporrans with finely-stitched Highlandwear, thick Scottish brogues and Caledonian traditions. The final episode of the first series even ended with a deep-dive into the 1746 Battle of Culloden, around which early seasons of Outlander are bloodily, historically centred. But, before we get the low-down on Heughan’s celebrated Starz series, let’s raise a glass to another Scottish staple; whisky.

Because Heughan, in a properly patriotic move, has joined the rarefied ranks of modern celebrities who have founded their own spirit brands. Named ‘The Sassenach’, after a character’s nickname in Outlander, Heughan’s scotch whisky label started up as something of a reaction. The actor had been approached by several distinguished distilleries wishing to collaborate, but he wanted to strike out on his own. And so, self-financed, Heughan and his business partner, Alexander Norouzi, set out on a country-wide tour of Scotland to find an independent master distiller who could bring their vision to life.

“Eventually,” says Heughan, “we found the master distiller we wanted to partner with and started work on a whisky. We narrowed it down, and eventually landed on a blend of two single malts — a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old — and then a 19-year-old organic grain. And we finished it in Madeira casks, so it’s got quite a sweet finish. Hopefully, what we’ve created is something that celebrates Scottish single malts, but is a blend”.

Jacket & Sweater by Berluti; Trousers by Paul Smith.

It’s a well-rounded whisky; utterly beguiling for a blend and inspired by the craggy landscapes of Scotland. Peaks of fresh citrus poke through stretches of lush butterscotch and spice, and notes from nutmeg to apricot ensure Heughan’s whisky avoids the ‘bland blend’ stereotype that’s irked the actor all his drinking life. But does he remember the first time he raised a glass of his national spirit?

“I think I do. It was probably that rubbish Famous Grouse, out on the street on New Years Eve, on Hogmanay! But I do remember the first time that I really got into it. I’d moved to London — I lived here for 12 years — and a friend of mine and I went to a pub one Christmas, up in Highgate. And we both thought, let’s have a whisky. 

“And I had a single malt Speyside whisky — and I just remember being quite homesick drinking it. Because it has so much emotion tied up in it. And I don’t think many other drinks have that. With whisky, you get a story. You smell the peat, or the sherry, or whatever the finish is. I don’t think that there are many other drinks that evoke that emotional response. Maybe wine? But it certainly doesn’t happen with vodka”.

Vodka, says Heughan? Interesting. Because, while the staunchly Scottish actor may prefer the brown stuff over other spirits, there are rumours that he’s tipped for a role that would see him swapping out ‘The Sassenach’ for something a little more ‘shaken-not-stirred’. The current odds for casting the next James Bond make for incredibly interesting reading. And, although Heughan’s overly humble guess — “Maybe 500/1?” — misses the mark by some margin, his actual current odds of 12/1 put him firmly in the 007 running alongside actors such as Richard Madden, James Norton and Tom Hardy. But Heughan doesn’t put much stock in the speculation.

“I don’t think so,” he smiles. “I think the odds are a bit of a fallacy. I mean, I’m obviously such a huge fan of the Bond movies. I actually just rewatched the most recent one again, No Time To Die. I mean, it would be an incredible job, wouldn’t it? 

“But I did audition for it,” he reveals, “back when they were doing Bond 21, Casino Royale. But I was quite young then. I was like twenty-something. It was when Daniel Craig got the role. And I think, initially at least, they were going to go younger; to go back to when Bond was like 20-years-old. I actually feel like that’s what they might do next — do an origin story, which would be pretty cool”.

While the world would doubtlessly enjoy seeing another Scottish Bond, and Heughan admits it would be an honour to slip behind the wheel of an Aston, the actor doesn’t seem too invested in the possibility. But why should he? The man’s already been Batman, and that’s an inherited role coveted almost as eagerly as 007. And he’s dabbled in the world of espionage, too — playing a Bondian secret service agent (with some genuinely impressive stunt scenes) in action comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me, and a more authentic special forces operator in Andy McNab adaptation SAS: Red Notice.

“If I’m honest,” he says of the latter thriller, “in a way I really enjoyed that because it’s like a more authentic or contemporary Bond — it’s straight from the horse’s mouth. And I spent so much time with Andy McNab, and the SAS and how they operate. And that, for me, was a good opportunity to live out those dreams of being in that spy world”.

"That was a good opportunity to live out those dreams of being in that spy world..."

He scratched another 007 itch back in 2011, just before Gotham came a-calling. In the schmaltzy Hallmark Christmas film, A Princess for Christmas, Heughan was cast as a minor royal alongside the longest-serving Bond actor, Sir Roger Moore.

“He was a total gentleman,” recalls Heughan. “I remember him being extremely charming, and really generous. We had to do a close-up of Katie McGrath and everyone was rushing for time — and they just didn’t give her enough time to do it. It was the end of the day, and they started her take, but told her that she only had one take of this, only one shot in which to do it. And she’d been brilliant all day, and we’d shot everyone else, but I think the pressure started to get to her. 

“So, halfway through the take, Roger Moore just started coughing — very loudly — and carried on coughing all the way through it. And I think he totally did that on purpose, to basically help her out and give her another chance. Because I don’t think Katie could have asked to do it again — but if Sir Roger asks? Of course!”

Coat by Dolce & Gabbana; Sweater by Giorgio Armani; Trousers by All Saints.

Such film work has been few and far between for Heughan. Since signing on to play the series lead in Outlander back in 2013, there hasn’t been much spare time in his schedule. But he’s managed to squeeze in a handful of eclectic, varied films of late. He snarled his way through 2020’s comic book adaptation Bloodshot, in which he played a cybernetically-enhanced ex-Navy SEAL opposite Vin Diesel. And, last year, he portrayed Paul Newman in To Olivia, a character study of author Roald Dahl’s life, starring Hugh Bonneville. 

“Scheduling is definitely the biggest challenge,” acknowledges the actor. “I was supposed to be doing this movie, Everest, with Ewan McGregor, all about the first climbers to go up Everest in the 1920s. But, with the way that schedules have happened, we’re not going to be able to do it now. And it’s such a shame. But there’ve been a lot like that. It’s hard to fit other projects in a short gap”.

Next on the career cards, aside from the freshly-started sixth season of Outlander (streaming now on STARZPLAY), is a guest-turn in the James Nesbitt-starring Suspect for Channel 4, and Text for You, Heughan’s long-awaited return to the Christmas rom-com genre co-starring, of all people, Celine Dion. But perhaps Heughan’s most-anticipated project is one that he isn’t even involved in; Amazon’s new The Lord of the Rings adaptation, The Rings of Power. Why? Partly because both Heughan and his older brother, Cirdan, are named for Tolkien characters.

“And I’m also interested in it because we were just in New Zealand, and that’s where they shot the first series,” he adds. “And now, I believe, they’re about to start shooting the next part of it in Scotland. I would have liked to be in it though, you know? Hopefully there’s a chance. Because I feel like I would make a pretty good elf, or just be like a human warrior or something. I’d really like to do something like that”.

For now, however, Heughan must continue to slake his historical fantasy thirst with Outlander; the hugely-popular, time-twisting television series based on Diana Gabaldon’s successful series of novels. In 2014, when the show began, it told the tale of a married Second World War military nurse who found herself transported back to the Highlands of 1743 — and into the strapping arms of Heughan’s clan warrior, Jamie Fraser. As the show returns for its sixth, slightly shorter-than-usual season, we find the characters stateside, where an old adversary from Fraser’s past has arrived to threaten his position of power. 

“I think that this season has a lot more fleshed-out storylines, and you learn a lot more about the other characters involved,” says Heughan. “And so much happens this season; I think the fans are going to be really excited”.

Even more reason for excitement: the show has already been renewed for a seventh season, and the cameras, Heughan reveals, will be rolling imminently.

“Yes! We pretty much start shooting in a couple of weeks’ time,” beams the actor. “There’s a good cliffhanger at the end of this season. But we had to adapt a bit for season six. Because we didn’t know that we were going to finish early. But then, we had Covid, and my co-star was pregnant, so we really had to adapt it. 

“But I think that’s another thing that’s really kind of amazing right now; that we can still change the storyline and that we can still actively move things around and make it work. And that makes for a really exciting, really gripping story”.

Jumper by Mackintosh; Jacket by Mr P.

Sam Heughan is the March 2022 digital cover star for Gentleman’s Journal. Thanks to Emelia Gayner for wardrobe assistance, Tom Ford Beauty, Kevin Murphy and Color Wow. 

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